The most intriguing aspect of last week’s provincial cabinet shuffle was not the Cheshire-cat-like, photo-op grins on the faces of the two newly blessed members of Darrell Dexter’s inner circle.
Or the nameplate-shuffling and amoeba-like subdividing of ministerial responsibilities the government predictably insisted will help it do its job even better and eventually save taxpayers money it is about to spend to add new ministers and their staffs to the public payroll.
Or even the equally predictable bleating from the opposition that now is no time to add to the cost of government, even though they will almost certainly do the same if they some how, some way, some day get the chance.
No, the most intriguing aspect of last week’s shuffle was the name that went unmentioned: Howard Epstein.
Intriguing. Disappointing. But hardly surprising.
Epstein, a lawyer, veteran MLA and former Halifax city councilor, remains one of his party’s best, brightest and worst used backbenchers.
He’s a former head of the Ecology Action Centre, an acknowledged expert on matters environmental. Given the Dexter government isn’t winning awards for environmental stewardship—can you say mercury emissions?—appointing Epstein would signal the party is serious about sustainability and help woo Green-leaning voters.
But Epstein—a finance critic during the NDP’s opposition-wandering years and a wise-in-the-ways provincial-municipal affairs expert—would have been a good fit in other portfolios too.
Why is he still on the outside?
There are obvious answers, of course.
Epstein is ideologically to the left of many of his colleagues, not to forget an independent thinker who speaks his mind and a smart guy who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
For much of his time in opposition and during Dexter’s first year in office, Epstein played—in public at least—the ideal team player.
When he finally went off the reservation this summer—publicly opposing plans for a convention centre—it seemed an acknowledgement he would never inside.
Ultimately, that may not be a bad thing.
Given its own tendencies and the rightward lurch of both opposition parties, Dexter’s government could use an articulate critic from the left.
Epstein is certainly that. So his absence is a disappointment. But not completely.